#Trending: the most popular edtech in 2019

Charley Rogers asks what tech is taking centre stage in 2019, and how education is feeling its impact

What is going to be the most popular edtech over the next 12 months? It’s a communal game we play every year, and a question whose answer’s biggest variable is who you’re asking.

When it comes to predicting future trends in any sector, some research can be based on data, some on anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is often less clear-cut than hard data, but can offer insights into how those that are involved view their sector’s development, and gets closer than stark data to the heart of what drives these people, and the impact they hope to have within the realms of their work. In the case of edtech, it is the tech providers and those on the front line of education that have the insights that can most brightly illuminate what the next year might look like.

In the spotlight

So what are educators and edtech providers predicting for 2019? In terms of the numbers, the ICT in UK Maintained Schools report from BESA shows that in 2017/18, 42% of ICT budgets in secondary schools were allocated to computers, whereas only 13% was allocated to ICT support. This focus on the physical aspects of edtech, however, seems to be taking more of a back seat as we come into 2019. It is, in fact, the elements of tech that impact less tangible aspects of teaching and learning that are beginning to emerge as most favoured.

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE), commented: “It is clear that 2019 is the year of Artificial Intelligence.” Dr Becky Sage, CEO at edtech company Interactive Scientific, agreed, saying: “AI, machine learning, and personalised learning will continue to grow.” Rather than the oft-cited fear of robot teachers, the implementation of AI in education throughout the past year has focused more on the analysis of big data and in the personalisation of learning. Indeed, Toby Baker, assistant programme manager, education, at Nesta, claims that “the aim [of AI] is to relieve pressure on teachers.”

An article from Business Insider in July 2018 also reported that artificial intelligence in the education sector is expected to be worth $6bn by 2024, largely driven by the need for personalised learning, and that the ‘learner model’ is expected to account for a 60% share of the market.

As Dr Sage mentioned, machine learning and learner analytics have also been top of the list when it comes to edtech talking points. Martin McKay, CTO at Texthelp, said: “Learning analytics have been a slow burner for a few years now, but this is going to be the year that they take the main stage.” McKay also mentioned a focus on machine learning, as well as the “coming of age” of open educational resources (OER).

It is clear that 2019 is the year of Artificial Intelligence.
– Richard Culatta, ISTE

Taking the reins

However, unsurprisingly, there are a number of other tech ‘genres’ that are competing for attention. Often, the types of tech that are said to be expected to boom are directly related to the offering of the vendor you’re speaking to, but there are also societal and contextual reasons for the importance of many kinds of tech. These include the UK’s need to plug its skills gap in engineering and manufacturing pushing forward the use of 3D printing in education, and the desire for interactive and immersive learning experiences supporting the growth of VR and AR.

Culatta also commented that there has indeed been plenty of focus on “improving access and connectivity in schools” throughout the last several years, and that “this coming year needs to be the year of making sure teachers know how to harness the incredible digital tools that are available to them.”

This is a conversation that dominated 2018, and Dr Sage agreed, commenting: “I think that [in 2019] we are moving more towards the impact and efficacy of the tech, rather than just technology buzzwords.” This focus on efficacy and teacher training, then, looks to be something that will make waves in edtech this year.

Indeed, back in August, education secretary Damain Hinds issued a call to industry to launch an educational revolution for schools, colleges, and universities. In a news story published by the government on their website, it was reported that ‘only a minority of schools and colleges are currently taking advantage of the opportunities [afforded by technology]’, and that there is a need to develop innovative teaching practices, cut teacher workload, and promote lifelong learning.

Hinds said: “Schools, colleges and universities have the power to choose the tech tools which are best for them and their budgets. But they cannot do this alone. It’s only by forging a strong partnership between government, technology innovators and the education sector that there will be sustainable, focused solutions which will ultimately support and inspire the learners of today and tomorrow.”

Tackling budgets

Although there are many aspects of growing edtech that have very promising backing from industry and government, the issue of financing is an ever-present challenge for educators. Andrew Cluney, regional brand ambassador for Dremel UK said: “Budgets are under real pressure, indeed in the UK, we’ve seen the first decline in school budgets for a generation.” However, tech is continuing to reduce in price, said Mike Boyce, senior business developer at Immersive VR Education, particularly in the VR space, another high-profile tech genre for 2019. “People see the high-end price and become shocked,” he said. “However there is a wide range of options, and I would always suggest to seek advice on what to buy, and build this into your current technology plan.”

I think that [in 2019] we are moving more towards the impact and efficacy of the tech, rather than just technology buzzwords.
– Dr Becky Sage, Interactive Scientific

In terms of budget horizons in 2019, Dr Sage expects to see an increase in private investment, “as the positive impact of technology in education is better heard and understood.” However, capital available to edtech companies is still a huge challenge, she explained, largely due to the “lack of understanding of the size of transformation that can be made using technology.”

So what can be done in the coming year to continue edtech’s growth despite budget constraints? Considering how technology is adopted and accessed is one way to work around a low budget, suggested Boyce: “As you adjust your technology strategy to suit your adoption of technology, new options will appear,” he said. “This can be lease-based use of equipment, giving you access to the ‘must-have-now’ hardware without the premium price tag.” The amount of hardware needed can even be reduced, suggested Boyce, through the use of access systems such as cloud computing.

Edtech: the great equaliser

Democratisation and increasing access to education has also been a big talking point this year, from deliberations over grammar schools and the cost of private education, to ensuring that marginalised communities across the world have access to quality learning. Culatta commented: “I have believed for years that technology has the single greatest potential to transform learning, particularly to bring a greater level of equity to the quality of education for all kids.”

McKay echoed these sentiments, commenting that in 2019 more students than ever before should be able to have access to assistive technology during exams, thanks to collaboration between assistive tech developers, assessment vendors, and platform providers. This focus on assessment is also a prominent issue for Dr Sage, who said: “I think that we will finally see assessment tackled in much more tangible ways [in 2019], and I expect to continue to hear about blockchain in this context.”

As always, there are various elements that contribute to the current edtech landscape, not least what developments are being worked on in the tech world. Whether these developments drive innovations in education, or whether the needs of education are the source of these innovations is often hard to tell, and the subject of many debates. What is clear, however, is that the success of edtech implementation is reliant on sufficient collaboration between industry, education, and government, and it remains to be seen how these sectors will work together throughout 2019 to push their collective agendas.

Whatever happens, it appears right now that AI is going to be at the centre of many debates and developments, and its close correlation with data analytics, machine learning, and personalisation will have a huge impact throughout the next twelve months. Richard Culatta summed it up well: “My hope for 2019 is that we continue to focus on not just connecting classrooms and getting students access to technology, but that we focus on redesigning learning with these amazing tools.”